Striving for an Integrated Society That Looks Out for Its Most Vulnerable

Bangkok | 08/16/2013 8:55am
Informal City Dialogues

As the Informal City Dialogues moves toward its “Embracing the Informal City” conference in September, each week we will present summaries of the scenarios created in the six participating cities. These scenarios were created in multi-day workshops planned and conducted by Forum for the Future in conjunction with Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and with support from The Rockefeller Foundation. The outputs were collaboratively envisioned by a wide range of actors, from informal settlers and street vendors to urban planners and government officials. The following is an excerpt from Forum for the Future’s report on the scenarios developed in each city, which will be published in September. Click here to read more about how the futures scenarios process works.

BANGKOK

Two forces will influence the Thai capital’s future: Integration (versus segregation) and the degree of political organizing undertaken by its citizens. The way these forces play off of each other could lead to four possible outcomes for the city, illustrated in the four scenarios summarized below. Will Bangkok in 2040 be an integrated city, where inclusive political organizing protects the vulnerable and disadvantaged, or will it fracture into segregated interest groups, each with their own political machinery? Will it be a place where different social and economic classes mix, yet the poor remain poor and the rich remain rich, or will it become a place where social mobility is possible, albeit in segregated silos?

Mixed Veggie Stew: An All-Inclusive City

In 2040 Bangkok has become an inclusive city—with extensive and formal political organizing and a high degree of civic engagement. The poor and vulnerable populations, both in the formal and informal city, have adequate access to basic services and employment opportunities, as well as political representation at the local and national levels. City residents, regardless of their ethnicity, age, or social and economic background, can live, work, travel, and play alongside one another. They share public services such as mass transit systems, public parks, and hospitals. Due to strong political organizing and advocacy on behalf of the poor and vulnerable, there is a commitment to remove all obstacles to the full participation of everyone in city life. People are equally valued and respected as unique individuals. City infrastructure and facilities are re-developed to accommodate the needs of disadvantaged people.

Curry Rice: A Mafia and Clique City

This is an economically integrated city, in which informal and formal economic activities are intricately linked. The poor and vulnerable populations live and work close to the middle class and the rich. It is an integrated environment but not necessarily inclusive. Due to ad hoc, informal political organizing, and limited civic engagement and advocacy, the basic infrastructure of the city still favors the middle class and the rich. Despite this, informal public services allow the poor and vulnerable populations to live and work in the same areas. The poor in the informal sector have limited formal political representation and get co-opted by “influential people.”

Sectioned Plates: A Tug of War City

Bangkok in this scenario has become an even more segregated city by 2040, in which people of different social and economic backgrounds live and work in different parts of the city. Formal political organizations and advocacy groups lobby for group interests along social, economic, and political lines. Even the poor and the informal now have collective political clout. They pursue and maximize their group interests at the expense of other groups, creating an extremely partisan political environment that negatively affects social harmony. Due to decentralization efforts, each municipality has more authority over local infrastructure and facilities but there are clear inequalities among municipalities in the region.

Food-Court Buffet: A Free for All City

This is a socially and physically segregated city where the rich, the middle class, and the poor all live in separate areas. Rich foreigners and poor foreign migrant workers are also segregated. City residents, whether rich or poor, are apathetic about national and city politics and do not care much about civic engagement. People with more resources and political connections are able to benefit most from urban public services. “Those with the longest arms are able to grab the most.”